Posts Tagged ‘language’

Ending the War on Sharing

February 17, 2009

Richard Stallman spoke on the issue of community and copyright law. After Kate Milberry asked if the practice of software development and sharing he’d been talking about can be applied in the wider world. Stallman replied that his whole talk has been about that very question. Stallman refused to make the links between his issue and larger liberatory movements. He is pushing one issue. There are other issues, but he will leave those to the interested parties.

Some ideas Stallman dropped – Don’t use their terms. Once you take on the terms of the status quo you reproduce dominant meaning. The terms themselves contain meaning that limits our freedoms. We need to develop a language of freedom. The concept of an alternative language.

Fighting the war on sharing. Sharing is anti-capitalist. Sharing is socialist. Sharing removes the price fetish of capitalist imaginary.

Vancouver, BC

(Here’s a liveblog of one of Stallman’s talks in Vancouver: humminbird604)

Another software related presentation: Jim Andrews spoke in the New Media Building. The talk is well blogged here. After hearing Stallman, Andrews was a disappointment. (Here’s my cut and pasted review of the presentation, originally from gmail chat)

me: The presentation wasn’t that interesting, in and of itself, but there were a number of moments when the philosophical deficiencies in the room became the interest.
social foundation of intelligence.

me: the fear of AI
is the fear of an asocial intelligence
the development of a psychopath
Capitalism does a very similar thing, when people say “makes sense”
what they mean sometimes is “it makes financial sense”
which is a bit asocial and as a result psychopathic
me: I asked the guy if the software he was developing was open source
he said it wasn’t for financial reasons
he wanted to be the only one… but if you’d have seen how derivative his software was…
I didn’t push it for fear of confrontation, telling an artist his work is derivative…
them’s fighting words

Chapter 3: Education as Direction

September 12, 2007

Writing about a book chapter for chapter is a constant reminder that you don’t know all that you’re writing about. Sure I’ve mentioned this before, but like I’m saying, the reminder is constant. Not that a critique of the entire book would encircle a knowledge of it all, it’s just that this partial critique and my partial experience are amplifying. That said, I’m going to spend a lot of time with chapter three.

Dewey got it wrong. Getting it wrong is a problem for any advancement of a theory of change. What I mean is it’s hard enough to change one person’s mind, even when the change is to the complete and obvious advantage of everyone involved. Changing the many minds involved in the protection and perpetuation of institutionalized education, is an overwhelming task. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but the combination of perfect theory and a multiplicity of small scale advances, is a possibility of hope and desire, that at this point can only motivate the work of perfecting theory. The idea of a perfect theory, might be objectionable, I’d probably object to the idea if someone else was putting it forward, but as a motivational idea Perfect Theory works. The problem with using a small scale mind change as an example, say one person changing the mind of one other, is the difficulty even on that small scale of reaching an understanding and course of action that both minds now agree to be in their best interest. At the institutional level, there are many interests, and contradictory interests. In a situation where interests contradict, the perfect theory would harmonize the contradiction. No matter how well intentioned a theory is, with an error it can only go so far. Dewey attempts to connect growth of democracy with the development of the experimental scientific method and evolutionary ideas, but limits the application of the method and ideas in his theory of education to the point where he completely contradicts the concepts behind the method and ideas.

I have a few friends in education who I am in conversation with, and one of the things I usually come around to is the problem of thinking about education while teaching in a classroom. It’s like the classroom structure and organization are binding and make any free thinking impossible. I mention this because Dewey is limited by pragmatism. Sure eventually teachers should think about how to do the work of teaching, but a philosophy of education, or a theory of education needs complete freedom to conceptualize education.

Evolution theory and the Experimental Scientific Method are fertile grounds for education, but how do we follow? I’m not quoting any sources, so if there are any readers who feel like correcting the Folk Theory and Method I’m about to use I’d appreciate it. The theory as I understand it is based on a concept of infinite variation. It’s through infinite variation that survival and diversification are possible. And the Method is a form of documenting a process so that results can be repeated or tested. But in the experimental stage the result can not be known, it’s a process of discovery.

But if, as Dewey suggests in Chapter 3, the general function of education is direction, control or guidance or assisting through cooperation the natural capacities of individuals. then where is the discovery? Dewey falls into the same trap he sets for students by insisting on direction as opposed to aimlessness.

Of course a proposal of aimlessness in education isn’t pragmatic. And there are ends, like reading that need direction. Specific skills and tools, like decoding, encoding and codes themselves are acts and knowledge teachers can aim to teach students. Education as a concept is different than training. Training has a direction, an end, and as such is a more accurate description for what takes place in schools.

Dewey says that when an immature human being is subject to some stimuli, “There is always a great deal of superfluous energy aroused. This energy may be wasted, going aside from the point; it may go against the successful performance of an act. “(p.24) To call this extra energy a waste, to see diversion as “going against” is to completely ignore or misunderstand evolutionary theory. Life tends toward variation, infinite variation, and it is precisely through this open attempt that organisms learn and change.

Is Dewey connecting his philosophy with accepted theories and methods of his contemporary society, as a means of gaining acceptance? He is well aware of social pressure and control. He writes of control, “Still more effective is the fact that unless an individual acts in the way current in his group, he is literally out of it.” (p.34) Is Dewey expressing his desire through current ideas?

Scientific discovery and evolution are nondirectable, uncontrollable processes. The method is a system of reproducing and testing discoveries. Discovery cannot be systematized, what happens next is always unknown. The system is the application of what is known, conservative, anti-evolutionary, closed and controlling. “Control, in truth, means only an emphatic form of direction of powers, and covers the regulation gained by an individual through his own efforts quite as much as that brought about when others take the lead. “(P.23) In Dewey’s definition control is the regulation of power or what is known. But if education is a system of control, how does the result deal with real discovery. Dewey is proposing controlled discovery as an educational method. The educator knows and directs that discovery, the point of any act. But what about the pointlessness of real discovery? How are children educated in the known, in the system, the controlled constructed environment of schools prepared to be free creative beings in an ever changing world?

Dewey Quotes on Mind, Language and Intentional Education

“When children go to school, they already have “minds” — they have knowledge and dispositions of judgment which may be appealed to through the use of language. But these “minds” are the organized habits of intelligent response which they have previously required by putting things to use in connection with the way other persons use things. The control is inescapable; it saturates disposition.” p.32

“Mind as a concrete thing is precisely the power to understand things in terms of the use made of them; a socialized mind is the power to understand them in terms of the use to which they are turned in joint or shared situations. And mind in this sense is the method of social control.” p.32

“Interaction with things may form habits of external adjustment. But it leads to activity having meaning and conscious intent only when things are used to produce results. And the only way one person can modify the mind of another is by using physical conditions, crude or artificial, so as to evoke some answering activity from him. Such are our two main conclusions.” p.33

“Intentional education signifies, as we have already seen, a specially selected environment, the selection being made on the basis of materials and method specifically promoting growth in the desired direction.” p.37

“Schools require for their full efficiency more opportunity for conjoint activities in which those instructed take part, so that they may acquire a social sense of their powers and of the materials and appliances used.” p.39

Re: Let the objections finally cease

March 16, 2007

I wrote and sent this letter to the editor at the Globe and Mail:

As a Canadian who takes as fact the First Nations’ responsibility for their own lives and communities, I’d like to answer John Ibbitson’s question, “So what are you doing to help them reach that independence?”

First and finally, I’m not suggesting we take away their autonomy regarding self-education. Integration is not, as he writes, “the only solution.” The last time Ibbitson made this suggestion (Dec. 21/06) Phil Fontaine (national chief, Assembly of First Nations) replied, “our dedicated leaders and educational professionals have developed a plan that will more effectively meet our needs.”


It wasn’t printed.

Just as a note, I use “we” (italicized in the letter) very self consciously. Ibbitson draws his readers into this “we.” He writes:

Let’s say to each other: We will bring status and non-status Indian, Inuit and Métis high-school completion rates up to national average in this generation, and we will not let jurisdictional disputes, funding shortfalls or anything else keep us from reaching that goal. And we will hold our politicians, our native leadership and most important ourselves to account.


I am a part of this we, and bothered by the inclusion. I become an actor in a conspiracy, a conspiracy I want no part of, and must respond with “we.” And there is a conspiracy here. “Integrating native schools into the provincial school systems is the only solution,” A conspiracy against First Nations autonomy.

Another note, When Fontaine writes “our dedicated leadership” and Ibbitson writes “our native leadership” the same possessive pronoun refers to different groups.

And another note: Ibbitson writes:

Those close to the issue are shaking their heads. They know the federal government would never surrender jurisdiction, the provincial governments would never agree to assume it and native leaders would never give up control.

We’re shaking our heads in Ibbitson’s mind because of what we know? But he’s proposed the solution, what he goes on to call the only solution:

The solution would be for Ottawa and native leaders to let provincial governments — who actually know how to run an education system — assume full responsibility for native schools.

For the record I’m not shaking my head, but if I were it wouldn’t be for the reasons Ibbitson puts forth. First is the repeated proposal of integration that Ibbitson is making. There’s a question; What are his intentions? The last time he made the suggestion the native response was clear, they’ve got it under control. So this second proposal, essentially ignoring the First Nations response, has got to be questioned. I don’t have an answer, just a question; What are his intentions?

Next, the interjection, “who actually know how to run a school system,” might provide the answer to why Ibbitson ignores the First Nations response. The First Nations are obviously not “who” for Ibbitson. This is actually offensive. All the more so, when you consider the influence the provincial education systems have had in the north. The provincial education system doesn’t work for low income kids.

And third, why wouldn’t the federal government want to drop this hot potato? Why wouldn’t the provincial governments take the money? Most kids fly out for high school already, integration wouldn’t be much of a change. These two objections are fabrications to make it look like the First Nations aren’t the only ones who don’t want this.

The First Nations are in an excellent position to experiment within education and find different practices that work in their many different communities, languages and cultures. There can not be an “only solution” when it comes to education in the north.

I now know why the question “How Canadian are you?” bothers me.